Volume 15, Issue 6 ~ February 8 - February 14, 2007

There Oughtta be a Law…

Cindy Schwartz, executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters, on the Clean Car Bill

Interviewed by Carrie Madren, Bay Weekly Staff Writer

Cindy Schwartz took the captain’s wheel at Maryland League of Conservation Voters last July. In her first legislative session as head of the environmental watchdog and voter education group, she’s described herself as a Jack-of-all-trades, specializing in being a good manager.

Schwartz started working for the environment 18 years ago, doing grassroots organizing with Clean Water Action in New Jersey. The urge to go eco came after she saw hypodermic needles from New York City washing up on her shore.

“There were also huge outflow pipes running right out in the ocean,” she recalls. In one of her first projects, she worked to defeat a garbage incinerator.

Now her environmental battles are legislative and political. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ main role is to elect environmental leaders and then hold them accountable.

“I hope my legacy is to come into a strong organization, take it to the next level, with a bigger budget,” she says. “The stronger we are and the more people we can talk to, the more the environment will matter in elections.”

This spring, after the legislative session, the League plans to introduce its Connections Project, to help voters connect local, state and national environmental issues — and, Schwartz says, “See that who we elect matters.”

But until April, the legislature is the big show in town.

Bay Weekly What is your number one legislative priority this session?

Cindy Schwartz One of the top we’re focused on is the Clean Cars Act [HB44 and SB51]. It’s a big factor for global warming, and that is something that the community cares a lot about.

We started the year knowing that this was going to be important. It’s flying.

Essentially, it says we will adhere to California emissions standards; mandate a certain number of advanced-technology vehicles be sold in Maryland; and carbon — this is really important for global warming — will be one of the pollutants monitored from tailpipe emissions.

The governor, we’re happy to say, has put in his own bill and signaled his support.

Bay Weekly What Clean Car Act has the governor proposed?

Cindy Schwartz SB103. It’s pretty much the Clean Cars Act with slight technical differences.

Bay Weekly Is the Clean Cars Act the same bill introduced two years ago?

Cindy Schwartz Yes, essentially.

Bay Weekly What difference will it make for Marylanders?

Cindy Schwartz: A couple things.

There will be more advanced-technology vehicles on the road, and that’s a good thing. That will reduce smog, and air pollution. Collectively, that helps in the fight against global warming, because you’re reducing carbon, one of the major greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

There’s also a bigger goal.

As a state, we’re helping the world to fight global warming in a small way. But we’re also helping to bolster our members in congress, who are working at the House and Senate level on global warming. Pushing and promoting this bill in Maryland will bolster our delegation as they talk about this on the Hill. There are already 11 states [with these regulations], and we’ll make 12. Probably a few more will come in this year.

Bay Weekly What will the Clean Car Act cost Marylanders if it passes?

Cindy Schwartz Really there isn’t any significant cost to Marylanders as a whole. In fact, over the lifetime of a car, they’ll save money on gas costs, because they’ll be using less gas.

Bay Weekly Who’s opposing it?

Cindy Schwartz Primarily it’s the car dealerships and manufacturers of cars.

Bay Weekly They seemed to have been able to sway legislators two years ago.

Cindy Schwartz Narrowly.

Bay Weekly What has changed in the last two years, giving the bill a chance now?

Cindy Schwartz A couple things have happened. One is, we have a Democratic governor now, who is supportive of this bill.

Two, from the public perspective, there’s been a shift. There is a greater understanding that tailpipe emissions are major contributors to greenhouse gases and are contributing to global warming.

I think that Clean Cars is a bill that people can understand. It’s a relatively easy-to-understand fix to a really big, complicated problem. People want to do something about it, they want to do their part and they’re concerned. But it’s hard to think, Gosh, what can I do to stop global warming? Well, one thing you can do is to support the Clean Cars Bill.

And awareness about global warming has grown: you can’t discount Katrina, Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. All of those things coming together have really solidified in people’s minds that we have a problem — and we have to fix it.

Bay Weekly It seems like Gore’s movie had a big influence.

Cindy Schwartz I think so. Tons of people have seen it, and it got so much media hype. The dialogue and conversation has shifted from validating or disputing the science to, we need to figure out a solution.

In the last two years, the conversation has shifted, and I think that has a lot to do with Inconvenient Truth.

I think it also has a lot to do with polar bears. Polar bears have been placed on the endangered species list. Maybe in the grand scheme of global warming, it’s not the biggest deal. But there’s a lot of people who really care about polar bears.

There’s another thing that’s happening in Maryland. In a zip code on the Eastern Shore, Allstate Insurance is going to stop insuring that area because of potential sea level rise due to global warming. We’re starting to see real people affected by global warming.

Bay Weekly Will Clean Cars pass this year?

Cindy Schwartz Yes. Unlike a lot of pieces of legislation, this has support from the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the governor. We have a conservation majority in the House and the Senate. The stars have aligned.

In early session, Sen. Brian Frosh and Del. Liz Bobo filed the Clean Cars Act (SB 51 / HB 44). On Thurs., Jan. 25 the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on the Senate version of these bills. On Fri. Feb. 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee planned to vote on the bill.

© COPYRIGHT 2007 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.